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The Week Ahead: Classic shifts into high gear

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The Week Ahead: Classic shifts into high gear play video for The Week Ahead: Classic shifts into high gear

On fields across the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, this week remains all about the long run, with Opening Day still three weeks away. Most Major Leaguers are focused on building stamina and refining mechanics for the arduous 162-game road that lies ahead.

The long run has no place in the World Baseball Classic, however. That's all about the here and now.

This past week closed with the United States storming back to topple Canada in a winner-take-all Pool D finale, advancing to the double-elimination second round at Miami's Marlins Park, where the Americans will begin play at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday against Puerto Rico. They also will contend with the Dominican Republic and Italy -- who meet Tuesday at 1 p.m. -- for two berths in semifinals.

"It's not going to be easy," U.S. third baseman David Wright said. "It's only going to get tougher from here."

Japan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have locked up two spots in the single-elimination final round, the Dutch rallying twice to upset heavily favored Cuba with a walk-off 7-6 win in Tokyo on Monday.

With the win, the Dutch punched their ticket to San Francisco's AT&T Park, which hosts the semifinals and championship starting Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT.

There already is no tomorrow for more than half of the 16 teams that made it to the first round. Clubs like Canada, Korea and Venezuela have also been sent packing, their Classic dreams delayed until 2017.

The Major League players from those teams now will head back to the relative calm of Spring Training. Some, like the Mariners' Michael Saunders, return on a high note despite the early exit. Saunders was named Pool D's Most Valuable Player after going 8-for-11 with seven RBIs in three games for Canada, including a two-run home run against the U.S.

"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and continuing to play," said Saunders, who plans to rejoin Seattle on Monday. "I don't feel like I need any days off.

"It's going to be tough to leave these guys. We have a lot of fun playing the game, we play hard, we play it the right way, and it's a tight fraternity. But I am looking forward to getting back into the clubhouse in Seattle and continuing to try to learn, and now my focus is with the Mariners and helping the Mariners win ballgames."

Saunders isn't the only player returning to Spring Training action this week. Some who have been sidelined with injuries will be looking to get back on the field as well.

Yankees ace CC Sabathia is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday against the Marlins with a pitch-count target of 65. The big left-hander, who underwent offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow, threw 50 pitches during a four-inning simulated game on Sunday.

Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum will resume Cactus League play on Tuesday, as he looks to jumpstart a comeback season. Lincecum, who posted a 5.18 ERA in 2012, completed a successful simulated game on Saturday after missing two starts due to a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand.

Elsewhere on the road to recovery, Angels reliever Ryan Madson -- on his way back from Tommy John surgery -- is set to throw a bullpen session on Monday, his first since suffering a setback on Feb. 1. Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis will get an MRI on his stiff neck on Monday. Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who sprained his left knee on March 2, hopes to return Friday.

Even non-players aren't immune to the dings and dents of spring. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will undergo a minor back procedure on Monday in St. Louis, with the goal of alleviating pain caused by a ruptured disk. The second-year skipper is expected at the team's camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday's off-day and hopes to manage on Thursday.

But nowhere is the long run more on people's minds than at Rangers camp, where rumors have swirled concerning Nolan Ryan's future with the organization.

The Hall of Fame pitcher has spent five years as Texas' president, in charge of day-to-day operations, and was made chief executive officer in 2011. But on March 1, the club promoted Jon Daniels to president of baseball operations and Rick George to president of business operations, raising questions about Ryan's future role.

Ryan issued a statement on Sunday in which he acknowledged having ongoing discussions with co-owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson about his status as CEO.

"I am very proud of what the Rangers have accomplished over the last several years, and I believe our preparations for the upcoming season are what is important," Ryan said.

Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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